Who should extraterrestrials speak to? Alternately, if Earthlings were space bound and found a pre-spaceflight civilization, who should talk to them?
To my knowledge, no specific first-contact plan exists. If the contact were to occur in outer space, then Article V of the treaty might guide the interaction. According to Article V, astronauts are considered envoys of mankind, and so presumably have the authority to at least arrange a meeting. The astronauts are directed to report to the Secretary General of the United Nations or any other state party to the treaty of “any phenomena they discover in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts.” Presumably this could include aliens.
If aliens arrive on Earth, then first contact is likely to be determined by the aliens themselves. Presumably, whatever human happens to be around will become the first spoken to. However, ideally shortly after that some high ranking official (President, King, Secretary General, etc.) will initiate contact and purport to speak at least for their own country or organization.
If contact comes from a signal, at least one draft argues for a defined set of protocol. The Declaration of Principles for Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence has been indorsed by various international agencies, and operates are a guideline. (http://www.webcitation.org/6DA5fYxH3). To my knowledge, this is not been formalized into an actual treaty. Presumably an outpost that discovers an extraterrestrial signal will forward news of that contact to various superiors or peers to check for authenticity, and then calls will be made to those same high ranking officials.
The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) has issued the leading guidelines intended to prevent contamination of other life forms by Earthlings. COSPAR tailors its specific recommendations to the types of missions being undertaken. The list is as follows:
Presumably, the sort of mission that would find a pre-spaceflight organization would fall into a Category III or IV classification. The specifics of these requirements are not readily available, but include at least documentation and some suggested protocol. (http://cosparhq.cnes.fr/Scistr/Pppolicy.htm) Further, this Planetary Protection policy is focused on accidental contamination, not with initiating intentional contact.
- Category I: Any mission to the Sun, Mercury, other locations not of interest for studying prebiotic chemistry or the origin and evolution of life.
- Category II: Any mission to the Earth’s Moon, Venus, comets, Jupiter, Pluto/Charon, Kuiper Belt Objects, other locations of interest for studying prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life but for which there is an insignificant probability of contamination with Earth life.
- Category III: Flyby and orbiter missions to locations with the potential to host life and for which there is a possibility of contamination by Earth life; e.g., Mars, Europa, Titan or Enceladus.
- Category IV: Lander or probe missions to locations with the potential to host life and for which there is a possibility of contamination by Earth life; e.g., Mars, Europa, Titan or Enceladus.
- Category V: Any earth return mission. Missions returning samples from locations with the potential to support life are considered ‘Restricted Earth Return’ and returned samples must be contained at levels more stringent than Biosafety level 4. Samples from locations judged unlikely to support life are considered ‘Unrestricted Earth Return’ and merit no constraints for planetary protection purposes.
For my part, I think that if intentional contact is to be made with a pre-spaceflight civilization at all (and the Star Trek Prime Directive, allowing for natural progression into spaceflight capability might be wisest) then it ought to be made by the Secretary General of the United Nations as an ambassador of all of Earth (or an ambassador assigned by the Secretary General) or whatever the equivalent title is if the political landscape undergoes substantial changes by then.
This essay first appeared in John’s blog, Boydfuturist, HERE